“Fear is a pink little ghost that has the ability to change into any form more terrifying than your worst nightmare could ever dream up. He can cripple you, taking everything. When he is around, you are falling constantly, a bottomless journey of no end. You have three choices of how you can deal with this little pink ghost.
Firstly, you can run and you can hide. He will always be chasing you, he will always be looking for you. One day he will find you.
Secondly, you can punch him in the face. Fear roars at you, you roar right back. It is a simple matter of who roars loudest.
And lastly, you can embrace him and you can hold his hand. You walk with fear and you accept him for the little pink ghost that he is, always knowing that he is there, but keeping him in your sight.” (The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World)
Jamie Bowlby-Whiting is a Brit who runs the travel blog Great Big Scary World. He’s also a guy who has worked in East Africa on a building project, was a ski host in France and has taught English in South Korea. He used to see the world as a big, scary place and sometimes still does, but he’s come to believe that live has more to offer than what we can get when staying in our comfort zones. His book, The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World is the story about how he stepped out of his comfort zone in search for “something more”.
The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World
When he’s 25, Jamie decides to grab his fear by the hand and walk with it. Or better, he’s taking his fear hitchhiking all across Europe and to the north of Africa. He leaves the safety of his family, the town he knows and his job to put his faith in total strangers and depend on them for transportation and often also a place to sleep.
His goal is to hitchhike north to Sweden to experience midsummer and “perpetual sunlight” there, but the people he meets while on the road soon dictate the places he visits instead.
“Say yes more.”
He catches rides with anyone who’s willing to take him, goes couch surfing as much as he can and for a while even travels together with Sam, another hitchhiker he met. He falls in love with a girl, leaves his stuff with her when he leaves for a trip he’s planned with Sam, falls in love with another girl and has to face the pain he’s caused when he picks up his stuff again with the first girl. He travels from northern Europe all the way down to Italy because his mother wants to celebrate her birthday there.
“The people you visit places with are sometimes more important than the places themselves.”
When he can’t hitch a ride, Jamie sometimes walks for miles to find a better spot to put his thumb up. When he doesn’t have a bed for the night he puts up his tent, on the Champs de Mars in Paris, in a barn or near a gas station.
Now these don’t sound like the acts of a fearful traveler, do they?
That’s what I thought too.
Here’s the thing with The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World: it’s well written, reads easily and addresses a topic a lot of people are at least curious about (hitchhiking). If it had been presented as an autobiographical story about a guy who leaves home to go hitchhiking across Europe – nothing more – , I would just have read it like that and I would have been pleasantly surprised by how Jamie shares his thoughts and fears with us. I would have noticed how he was full of doubt and terrified one moment and then confident and optimistic the next.
Of course, I’ve also noticed this “internal roller coaster”, as Jamie describes it himself, now, but because I was confused about how to read the book, I kept looking for something else.
I’m being vague here, aren’t I?
What I mean is this:
The book is called The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World, it starts with a prologue listing different moments in Jamie’s life when he was afraid of something and the blurb starts by saying that “As a child who suffered from crippling and irrational fears, Jamie was not the typical candidate to start hitchhiking alone through Europe.”.
So I thought this book would focus a lot on the conflict between being afraid of something and wanting to try something new.
But then the blurb also says “This is not an epic adventure or a travel diary. This is not a story about defeating fear and being courageous. This is an internal roller coaster spread across a whole continent. This is real life, and sometimes real life is big and scary.”.
And actually, that’s the only part of the blurb I should have read because it sums up perfectly what this book is about. It’s a well-written memoir of a hitchhiking trip that covers the different emotions, positive and negative, that come to play during such a trip. It’s about fear, yes, but the fears Jamie faces don’t make him a fearful person in my eyes. They’re fears that most of us would have while traveling. This time, they’re just written down for everyone to see.
So, do I think you should read The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World? Well, yes. Jamie has written down his story in a fluent way, not only taking you along on his trip but also forcing you to think about some of the questions he poses himself along the way.
Just don’t read the blurb first, okay? *wink*
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